“Wanti wanti, cyaan get ee and getti getti nuh wanti (Those that want it can’t get it and those that get it, don’t want it).”
“Fix Yuh Face. Smile! How the judges gon score unno wid unno face looking like that (Fix your face and smile. How will the judges score you with your faces looking like that)?”
For the millionth time, the cassette player stopped and we had to move back to our starting positions.
Sean and I were front and center as we practiced our group number for the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (J.C.D.C.) festival competition. Normally, we had an all girls dance team, but competition in our division had been getting tougher each year, so we were experimenting with some new additions. For this routine, we had a few boys who’d be our surprise guests halfway through our dance number.
“Come on you gotta wheel and dally, come on yuh gotta wheel and dally in the dance like a ballerina (Come on you have to dance with skill, come on you have to dance with skill in the dance like a ballerina).”
“Is wha kinda fenky, fenky arms dem dere and unno hear mi seh muss fix unno face (Where is the precision in your arm movements and don't let me ask you again to fix your face)?”
Sigh. We had almost made it to the end this time. We were all dripping sweat after rehearsing so many times. I’d personally lost count, but Ms. Portious wouldn’t end practice until we were perfect or as close to it as she could get us, since our competition was tomorrow. Mercifully, on the next take everybody smiled and kept their moves precise.
None of us questioned Ms. Portious’ methods though. Each year, we came away with several trophies and heavy praise from the judges at the festival, especially about our energy and facial expression.
“Tell yuh parents di bus leave tomorrow at 9 a.m (Tell your parents that the bus leaves tomorrow at 9 a.m.).”
Leaving the dance room, we rushed into the sweltering heat. It didn’t matter if it was hot, we were free, until tomorrow’s performance anyway. Most of us in our dance troupe had older siblings who had to wait for us to get through practice before walking us home and they had all migrated to the football field to occupy themselves, while they waited.
“Mek wi race guh di bathroom dem fi change (Let’s race to the bathrooms to change our clothes),” someone yelled out.
The bathrooms, where we could change from our leotards and tights, were on the other side of our school, next to where our older siblings were playing.
“Alrite. Ready, set, go!”
Off we went. Down the first block of classrooms. I was out in the lead as we approached the first corner to take us to the older kids’ classroom. It felt like someone was right on my heels, so I turned around to check right as I made it to the corner.
All the air rushed out of my chest as I hit something and then started falling to the hard, concrete slab. Dazed, I realized that I had crashed into the metal pipe at the corner of the building that carried the water away from the roof when it was raining.
I immediately felt my mouth begin to pool with blood after a loud popping sound when my jaw connected to the concrete slab. Through my excruciating pain, I heard people crying and screaming.
In no time, my dance teacher was kneeling beside me asking if I was okay. A stinging pain in my nostrils brought me to a moment of clarity and a world of pain. Eww, smelling salt, but it did the trick. I was back awake and feeling dazed.
I turned my head to try to spit out all the blood that now settled in my mouth, but realized I couldn’t really get my jaw to cooperate, so I just tried to loosen my lips and let it drain out.
“Nobody, doan move har. Guh fi har bredda dem and tell the office to call her parents( No one move her. Go and get her brothers and tell the office to call her parents).”
I must have lost consciousness again because when I came to, it was to the loud wailing of a siren. As my eyes started to shut again, I happily thought, Daddy.
I could tell I was being lifted, put on a stretcher and quickly moved.
“Trouble, trouble. You cyan hear mi? (Trouble-my nickname- can you hear me)?”
I tried to tell my daddy yes, but I don’t know if I actually did or not. I could hear my brothers and friends asking if I was okay.
“Yeah, man. She alrite. Doan worry (She's ok. Don't worry),” my dad replied as he continued to move the stretcher with the assistance of his coworker.
There was lots of pain as they moved me into the ambulance from the jostling of the stretcher. Then, I could feel the stretcher being lowered into place.
“Any allergies to medicine?”
“Kim, I’m going to take a look at you now ok?”
This from my dad’s coworker. I couldn’t remember his name. He was some young guy, who my dad normally complained about. My dad was in the front driving the ambulance.
“Mr. Patrick, har jaw nuh break inno. It juss bruise up. The whole heap a blood is from har teeth whe cut the inside a har jaw. Shi ago have nuff swellin cos she lik up inna di metal pipe, but ice and some medicine will help har out. (Her jaw isn’t broken, just badly bruised. All the blood is from where her teeth cut the inside of her jaw. She's going to have a nasty bruise from where she ran into that metal pole, but lots of ice and some medicine will do the trick).
I could hear him reaching for something, mixing it and then slowly having me sip whatever it was on the side of my mouth that didn’t feel as if it had been set on fire.
My dad drove the ambulance to our house, where my mother was waiting. By now my jaw was becoming discolored and very swollen. While in the ambulance, my dad’s coworker had wrapped a gel pack around my head with a bandage.
My dad carried me to my room, so I could go to sleep. I was already halfway asleep from the medicine I had gotten.
When I woke up in darkness a while later, I could hear my mother on the phone.
“No, Mrs. Portious, she cyaan dance. Har face swell up and she not feeling well (...she can’t dance. Her face is swollen and she’s not feeling well).”
I tried to call out to my mom, but the pain was too much. I walked quickly to the living room where the phone was and started motioning with my hand to my mom.
“Hol’ on a second, Mrs. Portious. Shi wake up. How u feelin, Kim (Hold on, Mrs. Portious. She’a awake. How are you feeling, Kim?
I couldn’t tell my mom that my face felt like a brick was strapped to it and that my entire head and neck felt like it was falling off.
I grabbed a notebook and pencil from my book bag that was sitting in the living room and wrote, “I want to dance.”
I had been practicing for months for the J.C.D.C. festival and was not about to miss my solo or group performance, no matter what my face felt like.
My mom didn’t look convinced, but she told my dance teacher I’d be there tomorrow morning.
Just then, my dad walked in.
“Trouble, you arite (Trouble, you ok)?”
I tried to make a face in response, but it hurt too much.
I went to sit at the table where my mom had made some soup and took a few sips. Then, I took the liquid painkillers my dad gave me. After that, it was back to bed. Sitting up to eat had really worn me out and I was starting to worry about whether it had been foolish to say I wanted to perform in the morning.
Getting comfortable with the bandage ice pack contraption was impossible, but mercifully the pain medicine helped me to fall asleep.
The morning was here way before I wanted it to be. I met my team and we headed to the festival. Everybody stared and I could tell they wondered if I was ok to perform, but no one actually said anything.
Sitting I wondered how I'd be able to fix my face with all the swelling and pain I was feeling.
At the J.C.D.C. festival, we changed into our folk song costumes for the group performance and one of the parent volunteers applied a heavy layer of makeup to cover up the purple bruises that were covering my swollen jaw. Each stroke of the brush on my jaw made me tear up.
Before we knew it, it was time for our group performance. Everything went perfect. The audience was shocked when the boys joined us and couldn’t get enough of them swinging and sliding us through their legs.
I don't even remember trying to smile. I just remember having fun dancing with my team and feeling the thrill of the audience reacting to all of our moves.
As soon as we got off stage, I had to run and change into my leotard for my solo to Bob Marley’s “Everywhere is War”. It was a relief that my solo was a serious piece and no smiling was necessary because now my jaw ached from all the smiling in the group dance number.
When I woke up, the bus was stopped in front of my mom’s workplace and she was helping me get off. She was smiling with pride at the medals hanging around my neck: one gold one for our group performance and a bronze one for my solo. Turns out you can dance pretty well with one working jaw, but personally, I don’t recommend it.
If you enjoyed "Fix Yuh Face," read the other short stories that have been released in the I am an Island Girl series. Story 5, Bad Dawg Dem is a story of how an island girl handles a run in with some bad dawg dem. Story 4, Verandah Key shows it’s not all fun and games “hanging out” in Jamaica. Story 3, If Ah Poop Yuh Dead, is a hilarious account of why Fridays were my favorite days of the week. The second story in the series, A We Say Acrobat: Chinese Skip, gives a glimpse into one of my favorite games growing up in Jamaica and the first story in the collection, Duppy Business, is a tale of the evil genius of siblings mixed with a popular Jamaican superstition (belief to some).